Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Death Panel

There was much made earlier in the health care / health insurance debate about the “death panels” – these supposed panels composed of faceless, nameless individuals who would decide whether a person, especially the elderly, would receive any more health care or be given the thumbs down – write your will, and prepare to buy the farm, oldster! Your services here on Planet Earth are no longer needed.

Eventually, all but the most ardent opponents came to an agreement that there were not going to be these “death panels” in any plan being proposed. There was a provision in some of them, later removed I believe, to allow Medicare reimbursement for doctors to discuss – not mandate - terminal options with very seriously ill and elderly patients. Call me crazy, but it I were 80 years old and suffering terribly from some terminal illness, I would want to learn as much as I can about every option. I would want to make the final choice, but I would want information. Who wouldn’t?

But, you know, even though no one seems to get upset about this – where all of those folks who were really beating the death panel drum? – we have death panels right here in the good ole USA right now. Just check out this article about a young boy named Kyler VanNocker if you do not believe me.

But instead of “death panels,” we call them “insurance companies.” An insurance company has decided that this five year old boy, who’s birthday was a couple of days ago, will need to die from his neuroblastoma. The standard treatment did not work, and another treatment, which actually could be effective – or maybe not – is considered experimental. It is experimental because kids with this disease usually don’t live long enough to try this treatment, which sends a radioactive drug directly to the tumors. Why would we not try this for a child? Who knows if it will save his life or not, but what if it does? Not only is his life saved, but we learn something more about defeating this type of cancer to save other children’s lives. And who knows where this one life will lead? Didn’t these guys ever watch “It’s a Wonderful Life?”

How does the insurance company word this news, I wonder? Is it something like this? “Dear Kyler – We have reviewed your case and are pleased to inform you that we are going to cover death for you. There are other options, but our analysis shows that not only is death the most cost effective option, but it also will lead to a permanent treatment of your condition. Please do not hesitate to contact us in the future should we be able to provide you additional assistance. We value you as a loyal customer. Oh, and Kyler, happy birthday – have an extra piece of cake on us! Sincerely yours, Your Cost Effective Insurance Company, also known as your friendly Death Panel.”

Something is not right here. The only thing more wrong about a little kid getting cancer – which is out of everyone’s control – is a little kid not getting treatments for it. We are talking about a five year old kid, not a 95 year old person with terminal cancer, who is being denied treatment. If I win the lottery Friday night, I know where some of it is going. Sure, it is just one kid in this crazy world of 6,000,000,000 or so people, but I am going to guess that to him and his family, his life is a pretty big deal.

No comments: